The Stanford Prison Experiment extended that analysis to demonstrate the surprisingly profound impact of institutional forces on the behavior of normal, healthy participants. Philip Zimbardo, PhD, and his research team of Craig Haney, Curtis Banks, David Jaffe, and ex convict consultant, Carlo Prescott (Zimbardo, Haney, Banks, & Jaffe, 1973) designed a study that separated the usual dispositional factors among correctional personnel and prisoners from the situational factors that characterize many prisons. They wanted to determine what prison-like settings bring out in people that are not confounded by what people bring into prisons. They sought to discover to what extent the violence and anti-social behaviors often found in prisons can be traced to the "bad apples" that go into prisons or to the "bad barrels" (the prisons themselves) that can corrupt behavior of even ordinary, good people.
In one variation (Milgram referred to this in 1974 as experiment 10) to his experiment Milgram altered the location from Yale University to a run-down office building in downtown Bridgeport, Connecticut. Participants believed that project was being run by a private research firm with no connection to Yale. In this setting the obedience rate was 47.5%, suggesting that the original location had played some part, but it was not a crucial factor.
During the study many participants showed signs of nervousness and tension. Participants sweated, trembled, stuttered, bit their lips, groaned, dug fingernails into their flesh, and these were typical not exceptional responses. Quite a common sign of tension was nervous laughing fits (14 out of 40 participants), which seemed entirely out of place, even bizarre. Full-blown uncontrollable seizures were observed for three participants
His results upset people - this may have been because they felt uncomfortable with what it showed about ordinary Americans. Maybe if they had not been so shocking (excuse the pun!) people would not have given Milgram's work a second thought, perhaps the unpalatable findings made people seek to discredit the procedures.
Milgram's work on obedience was attacked on ethical grounds, saying he deceived people and caused unreasonable distress. Volunteers often showed extreme stress - sweating, trembling, stammering, even having uncontrollable fits.
Milgram asked 40 psychiatrists to predict the results, they said that less than 1% would go all the way and that those who did would be psychopathic sadists.
Results: The psychiatrists were very wrong. Obedience rates were way higher. Two thirds of volunteers went up to 450V. No one stopped before 275V! These results surprised everyone, including Milgram. No one expected to find so many people prepared to give 450V shocks to a stranger!
Milgram concluded that the presence of disobedient stooges creates a strong liberating effect. He said that the stooges showed the participants that disobedience was an option and that it was natural to want to drop out and not harm the man; their behaviour confirmed their own feelings that this behaviour is wrong even in the context of a psychological experiment. Participants that were already considering defiance but not quite reaching the threshold to actually disobey, felt able to break free of the agentic state and demonstrate their own autonomy. He also notes that because the stooges stayed in the room and watched the participant’s behaviour this meant that each additional shock administered would demonstrate further social disapproval creating more pressure to conform to their standard.
Much has changed since 1963. The civil rights and antiwar movements taught Americans to question authority. Institutions that were once accorded great deference — including the government and the military — are now eyed warily. Yet it appears that ordinary Americans are about as willing to blindly follow orders to inflict pain on an innocent stranger as they were four decades ago.
For the first time in four decades, a researcher has repeated the Milgram experiment to find out whether, after all we have learned in the last 45 years, Americans are still as willing to inflict pain out of blind obedience.
Two slips of paper marked "teacher" were handed to the subject and to the co-subject. The co-subject was actually an actor who, in posing as a subject to the experiment, subsequently claimed that his slip said "learner" such that the unknowing subject was inevitably led to believe that his role as "teacher" had been chosen randomly.
Both learner and teacher were then given a sample 45-volt electric shock from an apparatus attached to a chair into which the "actor-learner" was to be strapped. The fictitious story given to the "teachers" was that the experiment was intended to explore the effects of punishment for incorrect responses on learning behavior.
In his Study of Obedience Milgram selected 40 male volunteers who had responded to this advert for persons willing to participate in a Study of Memory.
The 40 who were chosen were selected to vary in age, educational attainment, and occupation to give an overall sample that was somewhat representative of the general population.
In each of these studies, participants were assigned, in an ostensibly random fashion, to the role of a “teacher” in a learning experiment. The researchers instructed participants to administer shocks in 15-v increments (beginning at 15 v and continuing up to 450 v) to a “learner” whenever he made an incorrect response. Although the learner was never actually shocked, he made prescripted vocalizations at each increment. It is important to note that these vocalizations contained two elements: Some were pure expressions of physical pain (starting at 75 v and rising in intensity as voltage increased), whereas others included verbal requests to be released (starting at 150 v).
Why is it so many people obey when they feel coerced? Social psychologist Stanley Milgram researched the effect of authority on obedience. He concluded people obey either out of fear or out of a desire to appear cooperative--even when acting against their own better judgment and desires. Milgram’s classic yet controversial experiment illustrates people's reluctance to confront those who abuse power.
Shock levels were labeled from 15 to 450 volts. Besides the numerical scale, verbal anchors added to the frightful appearance of the instrument. Beginning from the lower end, jolt levels were labeled: "slight shock," "moderate shock," "strong shock," "very strong shock," "intense shock," and "extreme intensity shock." The next two anchors were "Danger: Severe Shock," and, past that, a simple but ghastly "XXX."